Beasley friends gathered in the music studio this week to welcome a visiting artist: Carolyn Lewis! Lower School Art Teacher Sarah Garner introduced Lewis and told students she would be sharing about both her art and her message.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for months!” Lewis began. “Mrs. Garner has been so organized and has welcomed me into this awesome school. I walked through the hallways this morning, and your artwork is phenomenal. Thank you for sharing your creations with me and everyone in the school!”
She shared that she knew from an early age that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up. “There are no artists in my family,” she laughed. She remembers asking her mother to scribble on a blank piece of paper, and then spending time coloring in the spaces and loops with her crayons. “It made me feel calm,” she confided. “Do any of you do that? Color and feel calm?” A sea of little hands shot up around the studio.
As Lewis grew up, she added painting, ceramics, and photography to her media. “Every time I learn something new about art, it would help me tell a story or help me feel calm,” she shared.
Eventually, she began working with kids in hospitals as an art therapist. She partnered with children in treatment for cancer, helping them tell their stories through art. “When the world feels big and scary, we may not have the words,” she said, “But we can draw it, and we can paint.” The experience confirmed the healing powers of art to her, and that magic only strengthened her resolve to be a full-time artist.
“Then I became a mom,” she said. She squirreled herself away in the laundry room, where her art supplies were stored, during naps. “I would do something every day to take care of me,” she said, “and that was making art.” In 2018, she decided to become a full-time artist, and now she has her own studio and gallery. “I do art every day!” she exclaimed. “If you dream of something, keep working toward that every single day. Don’t let that dream go away.”
Yearning for connection in the middle of the pandemic, Lewis expanded her art from small pieces to large murals, relishing working out in the community and inviting neighbors to join her. She put paintbrushes in the hands of older generations and young children, bringing people together with art and making places bright, vibrant, and welcoming to all.
She took the concept of community art one step further, building upon the success of the Little Free Library movement. She opened the first Little Free Art Gallery in St. Louis, a little wooden box with a door where people can take and leave pieces of art. “People around the world have sent art for this,” she said. She began receiving notes from people who were thrilled to find a little piece of art that touched them in a special way. “If you want to open one in your neighborhood, reach out and I’ll help you,” Lewis offered. “It’s a great way to bring a community together…neighbors and friends from all over the world.”
Lewis shared one of her major project themes with the students: Empowerment Birds. These birds have special messages on their wings, words that motivate and inspire viewers. “I was at a time when I was feeling sad and I wanted to do something to make me feel strong and empowered and brave, so I chose words that made me feel that strength,” she said. “The background is fabric, and they’re all kind of funky, their legs are all doing something weird, and they all have a different word. Every single bird is wearing red shoes, just like I’m wearing red shoes today. I wear them on days I need a little extra confidence. They make me feel stronger and walk braver.”
She encouraged Beasley students to find their own pair of red shoes, or a special necklace, favorite t-shirt, or lucky socks, something that makes them feel strong and brave, put them on, and keep moving. And, of course, there’s always art. “Even when you don’t have the words to tell how you’re feeling, art is always there. Even when the world feels way too big and overwhelming, art is there to make you feel calm. Even when you feel scared or anxious, put your red shoes on, walk taller, be confident, put one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t matter how professional you think you are or how many art classes you’ve taken, the world needs your art. Imagine this school without your artwork—it would be so boring! I invite you put your art up on walls and help me with my next mural and come to my studio, but, really, I want you to keep creating.”
After the assembly, fourth-grade students spent time with Lewis in the art studio, making their own Empowerment Birds. And all Beasley artists are walking a little taller today, proud of the difference their art makes in our community.
Thank you, Carolyn Lewis, for sharing your wisdom and your experience with art!